Q+A: Staying Gluten-Free While at College


In college, meals are something to look forward to. Students out on their own for the first time use meals in dining halls or local eateries to join together and take a break from academia.

However, for those with gluten-free diets, it may not be as simple as popping in to the place next to your dorm and ordering the first thing on the menu.

With that in mind, Whitney Butler has some tips. A registered dietitian on staff with Drexel’s Parkway Health and Wellness who serves as Drexel Campus Dining’s official dietitian, Butler here runs through some of the challenges facing college students who are on their own for the first time and trying to maintain a gluten-free diet.

  • Would you say that it’s easier now to be gluten-free in college than it may have been five or 10 years ago?

Definitely. Fortunately, now is it more common for college dining operations to offer a variety of gluten-free products for students to enjoy. Ten years ago, the biggest challenge would have often been trying to eat with your friends, but now there are plenty of affordable gluten-free choices and menu substitutions.

At Drexel, we offer gluten free bagels, breads, wraps, muffins, brownies, cookies, cereals, soups, and more.

Part of my job is educating our staff on preventing cross-contact between gluten-containing and gluten-free foods, so that students can safely enjoy their meals without worry.

  • What readily available snacks would you recommend for someone in college who might be on a tighter budget?

I’d recommend any of the following: hummus with carrots, gluten-free cereal with milk, gluten-free granola with yogurt, string cheese with fruit, nuts, trail mix, popcorn, corn tortillas with salsa or guacamole, or gluten-free protein bars.

  • When looking to eat out at a restaurant, what places might pose more of a challenge than others?

Some of the more challenging restaurant types include Asian (frequently use soy sauce in a variety of their dishes), Italian (pasta and pizza as staples — if it’s homemade dough, gluten can stay in the air for up to 24 hours), or delis (bread makes it difficult to avoid cross contact).

Also always be careful when ordering fried foods (French fries, house-made potato chips, fried tofu, etc.) since even though they are naturally occurring gluten-free foods, they are often in the same fryer as other breaded items.

Restaurants with dedicated gluten-free kitchens are always the best option, but since those types of eating establishments aren’t always available, the next best option would be to look for staff trained in cross-contact prevention. For example, our employees with Drexel Campus Dining have taken accredited food allergy training courses.

  • What’s a common way that students on gluten-free diets can get tripped up?

Some less-obvious sources of gluten can include gravies, marinades or sauces.

Many varieties of processed meats include gluten as a filler, and veggie burgers, if made with seitan, would contain gluten. Cream-based soups are sometimes thickened with flour. Scrambled eggs are many times cooked on the same grill as pancakes and French toast.

Students should always first inform the server of their food allergy to be sure there aren’t hidden gluten-containing ingredients.

If you’re interested in scheduling an appointment with Drexel’s team of registered dietitians at Parkway Health and Wellness, you can call 215.553.7012, or visit the Parkway Health and Wellness site here.

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